Malcolm Middleton – Bananas (4 stars)

Malcolm Middleton – Bananas

Thrilling prog-rock magic from Arab Strap guitartist

I'll tell you what's bananas: Malcolm Middleton taking so long to fully unleash his inner prog-rock god. The erstwhile Arab Strap guitarist and beloved wry pop bard has crafted myriad gorgeous, adventurous albums over the years – including 2005's Into The Woods, an experimental opus as Human Don't Be Angry, and an innovative collaboration with visual artist David Shrigley – but it's only now, via 'Buzz Lightyear Helmet', that his knack for a sprawling, genre-brawling, eight-minute epic has come into (kaleidoscopic) focus. It is wondrous.

The title and artwork of Middleton's latest long-player variously conjure twin cultural beacons the Velvet Underground and Bananarama, and its contents are suitably exploratory and catchy – from glorious drive-rock opener 'Gut Feeling', to kosmische fever dream 'That Voice Again' and glam-pop serenade 'Love Is a Momentary Lapse In Self-Loathing' ('fuck off with your happiness', Middleton sings, reminding us that his droll, euphoric take on misery remains unrivalled).

The Falkirk-raised singer, songwriter and musician was based in Glasgow for many years, but he lives in the East Neuk of Fife these days, and that coastal realm's magic informs the album. There are lyrical nods to Pittenweem, his record label is based in Crail, and Bananas features backing vocals from Anstruther superstar King Creosote. Withered Hand, Jenny Reeve, Stevie Jones, Graeme Smillie and David Jeans all have starring roles too, and the album's ensuing harmonies and arrangements – piano, percussion, double bass, more – are a delight.

The brilliant 'Man Up, Man Down' deliriously morphs from a classic piano ballad into a disorientating techno lullaby and back again, and – as with so many songs on Bananas – it's up there with Middleton's loveliest and most thrilling work to date. It's quietly optimistic, too. 'We're going to have fun, fun, fun on the East Coast', he sings on prog wigout 'Buzz Lightyear Helmet'. He sounds like he means it.

Out now on Triassic Tusk.

Bananas, by Malcolm Middleton

Malcolm Middleton

Ex-Arab Strap guitarist Middleton, wallows in his own miserable life to curiously uplifting effect.

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